In June 2017, Michelle Carter was convicted by a Massachusetts judge of involuntary manslaughter for the 2014 death of her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy, and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. Roy committed suicide four years ago this week, by inhaling carbon monoxide in his truck, but according to prosecutors, Carter pressured Roy, her boyfriend of three years, to take his own life. Now, Carter’s attorneys are appealing her conviction on grounds that by “verbally encouraging Roy to go through with his suicide plan,” Carter was “engaged in protected speech.”
“Because the judge convicted Carter for what she said, or failed to say, not what she did, this case implicates free speech under the First Amendment,” Carter’s appeal to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reads.
Judge Lawrence Moniz was largely persuaded of Carter’s guit by a text message that Carter, who was 17 at the time, sent a friend two months after Roy’s death where she admitted that midway through his suicide attempt, Roy got scared and got out of the truck, but she “fucking told him to get back in.” Roy had a history of mental illness and had attempted suicide before.
Upon finding Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter, Moniz said that Carter’s actions, as described in the text message to her friend, constituted “wanton and reckless conduct” that was “inconsistent with human life.”
But Carter’s attorneys say that there is no way to know what exactly Carter, now 21, and Roy said to each other during their final two phone conversations on the day of his suicide, and that the text message was not a “contemporaneous account but an uncorroborated ‘confession’” that didn’t match the physical evidence in the case. They also pointed out that it was the only message out of hundreds that Carter sent after Roy’s suicide where she makes any mention of telling him to get back in his truck.
Carter’s case is the first to result in a conviction where “an absent defendant, with words alone, encouraged another person to commit suicide.”
“No defendant has ever been convicted for encouraging suicide where the defendant neither physically participated nor provided the means,” her appeal states. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has already agreed to hear Carter’s appeal, and a hearing is expected to be scheduled for later this year.